Al Batt: A booth, a table or the dining room floor?

Published 10:00 pm Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Tales from Exit 22, By Al Batt

“Booth or table?”

We had boots on the ground. It had been a magical day and my wife and I needed to do one thing before we turned into a pumpkin and mice. Eat. We had everything we needed except food.

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“Booth or table?” That’s what the restaurant hostess asked us. The choice was more of a pull than a push. There was no arm-twisting.

“Or would you rather eat on the floor?” She didn’t say that, but it was implied. I can’t imagine she received an incentive bonus for steering people to one over the other. I wonder if there is a difference in tipping percentages left by diners using a booth and customers eating at a table?

We tabled a motion for a table and opted for a booth. The hostess seemed pleased with our choice. She knew class when she encountered it. I think the larger percentage of people prefer a booth. Maybe it’s because most of us have a table at home. A booth becomes aspirational. It wouldn’t have ruined our lives if there hadn’t been a booth available. It wouldn’t even have caused our socks to change feet. There usually is an unoccupied booth. Sometimes there is a short wait while it is cleared and wiped. A long delay could cause a seismic shift to a table. Restaurants aren’t in the business of letting people down. The hostess led us to a booth. We were pleased.

Some wise man, or possibly a wise guy, said this about a chicken dinner, “A bird on the booth is worth two on the table.”

Chew on that for a while.

We followed her to our booth. Sometimes I get what I want. Right this way to the culinary delights. We took a booth because there were no sofas available. We like booths. A car is a booth on wheels. Even the Knights of the Round Table preferred a booth.

A booth does have a disadvantage. There’s less freedom. It can be like sitting next to the window of an airliner. A bathroom break might include a requirement for someone else to get up from the booth, too, and an apology on the bathroom-bound person’s part.

I remember the days before air conditioning was common in cafes, when I’d stop for nourishment while I was dressed in a softball uniform that included elegant shorts that nearly matched the jersey. It was a common plumage for me. I’d sit on the vinyl or Naugahyde of a booth. On a hot day, any skin touching a booth covering would become welded in place. It was difficult leaving some of those eating places.

There must be a booth museum somewhere other than the Booth Western Art Museum in Cartersville, Georgia. Perhaps there is one that honors all food furniture.

Why do we prefer booths? The prices are the same and the menus identical at booth and table. Neither one is the first-class section — at least not in the restaurants I frequent. I prefer booths just because. I favor booths despite the realization that if Abe Lincoln we’re alive today, he’d probably dislike a booth.

I’m a creature of habit. That might explain my predilection for booths. Tables can often be surrounded. People pass by on all sides like angry hordes storming a castle. No man is an island, but a table can be. A booth may be nothing more than a table nearly surrounded by high-backed benches, but it’s more protected. Tables tend to wobble, particularly senior tables. Old menus are folded and placed under a leg to steady a table. Sometimes a customer’s toes are given that job. Chairs are more treacherous than a booth’s benches. I’ve had chairs buckle under the weight of my deep thoughts or on an all-you-can-eat loose meat sandwich night, but I’ve never had a similar incident while seated at a booth.

I visited with a married couple from St. Petersburg, Florida. He told me that when they went on their first date, he’d asked for a booth at the restaurant. His wife said that if he’d had requested a table, their relationship would have ended that night.

I try not to spend much time deciding whether a booth or a table is best for me. The Venn diagram overlap between folks blissful with a booth and folks tickled with a table is substantial.

If I worry about whether I should sit at a booth or a table, I probably should worry about something else.

Like pernicious potholes.

Al Batt’s columns appear every Wednesday and Saturday.